The final leaders’ debate was a strange affair, dominated by the set, a monstrous rostrum affair, like something out of a theatre of the absurd play, perhaps symbolising how the importance of ‘the leader’ has grown out of all proportion. Suddenly, that’s all we have: leaders with a mass following. A dangerous syndrome.
Jacinda Adern, after promising relentless positivity, had a melancholic air. After all, National had waged a relentless campaign of lies: there was no fiscal hole, there was no raising of taxes, the tax on irrigation is token, the capital gains exploration is to find a best practice solution to a dire and complex problem (a population having a roof over its head), to deny foreigners the right to purchase property is common practice in many countries, especially small ones where the possibility of the nation’s fabric being sold is real. All these were lied about and a paranoia created. It was a move toward a US political culture with campaigns based on lies and invective. Camus wrote about the Spanish Civil War: It was in Spain that men learned that one can be right and still be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward. It is this, without doubt, which explains why so many men throughout the world regard the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy, (Preface to L’Espagne Libre, 1945). It is possible that this election could be a scaled down tragedy for this country.
Bill English, who can appear a likeable enough bloke in some settings, wore a strange, sickly, embarrassed smile, like a crim who’s got away with it. For if the Nats get away with it, it means the democratic right to govern is based on fraud and manipulation. It was, accordingly, a programme where the advertisements in the breaks seemed meaningful. Those absurd invitations and promises made by smiling idiots, that if we acquire some object or machine, we will enter nirvana, were the reality of the system we live under.
What are the options for the voter? To thoroughly research and fact check? Some manage that. Scoop for example, published research on the dairy-farm water question. Here are some facts. Dairy farms use as much water as 60 million people and have the environmental impact of 90 million people. There are 12000 dairy herds using 4.8 million cubic metres of water, but of those farms, 10,000 (80%) do not irrigate so would be unaffected by a water tax. Of the 20% who do irrigate they would be faced with an annual bill of $10-15000. And of those, there are a few mega farms run by corporate interests. They are the ones who would be hardest hit. And fair enough. This research is hardly front page news. It’s the truth but the truth is dangerous to the class interests that the Nats represent. So, what was going on in Morrinsville? More theatre of the absurd.
As a child, I could never figure out why my adopted father was so anti Labour, when his experience of the world as a working man aligned him with the party’s agenda, until I came across a 1935 election poster showing a red, communist monster clutching at the family home and the attached wife. Message: the reds will take not only your house but force your wife into becoming a slave to free love. Fred had bought into the message. As Chris Trotter pointed out in one of his better columns, nothing has changed. The Nats and the farmers and the business people believe they are born to rule and the rest of the population are a dangerous and recalcitrant rabble and don’t let them organise. You can no longer beat them into submission but you can befuddle and scare them.
So, there was reason for Jacinda to feel melancholic. If you are created by the media as a necessary story for what was promising to be a dull election, then the next media story is your downfall.
Maybe she should have turned up to the debate with a balaclava and a bandoleer?